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San Clemente Journal

Agostino DiFante, A Local Brand

Sep 05, 2017 11:42AM ● By Shelle Sandberg

Chef Augie conducting a cooking class at his Italian restaurant Agostino’s in Dana Point.

by Shelle Sandberg, photos by Jonie Milhouse

Agostino DiFante was five-years-old when he, his father, mother, and sister emigrated to America from the small town of Coreno Ausonio near Naples, Italy, hoping to live the American Dream. They settled in Cleveland, OH where his brother Gino was born. Agostino describes it as “a melting pot of people, food and culture.”

His father Luigi told him how he had started working in restaurants in Italy, and that cooking was his passion. Known as “Augie” to his family, friends, and customers, the love of the restaurant business has been in his blood for decades. That dedication and passion of Luigi’s did not skip a generation. 

 Upon graduating from Kent State with a degree in architecture, Agostino began a career designing for homeowners and restaurants. But his innate gift and passion for cooking won out in the long run, and he soon chose his life’s work in the restaurant business with his family.

The Legacy Begins
The DiFante family had their first successful eatery in Cleveland for 12 years before moving to California in 1987, where the climate replicated what Augie remembered as a child back in Italy. The first Agostino Ristorante and Bar in California was opened in South Laguna for just a short time, but due to the lack of parking, it was moved to its current location in Capistrano Beach where it has become a local icon.

During the first few years at this location, Augie met a beautiful blonde who worked upstairs on the 3rd floor of the Capistrano Surf Center building. Patti often came into the restaurant after work to unwind. The conversation flowed, as well as the wine, and as Agostino said, “the rest is history!”

In August the couple will have been married 25 years, and their union has produced two children, Alex 23, and Lindsey 18, a recent graduate from San Clemente High School. Although Augie, like his father Luigi, has no plans of retiring, he hopes his son will take over the business someday.

The Man and His Passion
As a hard-working man of many talents, Agostino has taken to heart one of his grandmother’s favorite quotes. Imparete L’arte e Metale Aparte! Learn an art and set it apart (save it for a day you might need it). It is one he lovingly puts into practice daily.
To that end, he has not only created a fine dining Italian restaurant revered by all who patronize it; he offers many other entertaining services, and one of the most popular is his hands-on cooking classes.

Named the Culinary Zone, and themed “Detour, the road not taken,” Augie has a motto for these classes. “You gain strength, courage and confidence when you succeed at doing something you thought you couldn’t do.”

More like a party than a class, the evenings begin with a wine and cheese meet and greet. Complete with step-by-step instructions, lots of wine, laughter and chatter the class progresses excitedly towards the grand finale … the consumption of their exquisite creations.

“They laugh a little, they talk a little, and they drink a little, and then… they EAT!” says Augie. “What could be better than that?”
Agostino has also designed and manufactured some unique kitchen products. Among them are a fabulous self-draining multi-pot with a locking lid, a spong (tong on one side and spoon on the other), and a 3 in 1 cutting board set. To stay on trend he utilizes magazines, the FOOD NETWORK, and experimentations in his own kitchen. And when asked if he has a favorite celebrity chef he says it’s the young, hip Guy Fieri, due to his unique style and California influence.

Another among the many entertainments found at Agostino’s is Wednesday Open Mic night. Local musicians come and play original music or covers. On occasion, Augie has been known to sit in on drums, although his musical talents had root at an early age with the violin and accordion. His taste in music is varied, and he listens to John Denver, Willie Nelson, and a lot of oldies.

After 28 years in the same location, many tourists find their way back to Agostino’s every year, but Augie’s patrons are 90% locals. Several of them feel like family to him. He is not only the man, but a local brand.

When asked how he keeps the integrity of his brand his response is that he oversees everything himself. He has to, it’s his name. He takes pride in being nice, and honest about everything he does. His favorite quote is: To be the sail … driven by the light … of the vessel of life … is to be.
For entertainment Agostino likes to ride his bike through Doheny Beach to the Ocean Institute. He doesn’t take the beauty around him at face value. He is always asking himself WHY? WHY is it beautiful? WHAT is it that gives it that beauty?  It’s important for him not only to live life but to understand it and the meaning and wisdom it holds. He is truly a lover of wisdom. 
Agostino De Fante grew up in the restaurant business, but for him it is about more than the everyday chore of running a business. In his words: “ it’s about a way of life, the people you meet every day, working together with family … it’s about wine, art, beauty, music, laughter and good food.” 

I love the Italian way of life, he says. “It’s in my blood. It’s like going home. Come home to Agostino’s … to nourish the soul … so that the world may shine like when you have too much wine.”